Washington Publishers

The Health Gazette

Click here to visit our Parenting Forum


I'm sure you have all heard of high blood pressure referred to as the silent killer. Well, there is another one lurking out there--slowly victimizing an incredible 78% of the American population.

This silent killer is inactivity. Are you surprised?

It may be hard to believe that an estimated 250,000 people die in our country every year because of inactivity, but the evidence is continually more convincing. Inactivity is second only to smoking, which causes 400,000 preventable deaths in the United States annually--more than auto accidents, breast cancer, colon cancer and alcohol combined.

We must change the way we think about exercise and what we do about it. Regular exercise is just as important as not smoking or treating high blood pressure.

Mind- and Body-Boggling Facts

Last year, I reviewed over 500 articles related to exercise and health. As an avid exercise enthusiast, even I was amazed at the proven benefits of regular exercise.

One benefit is almost immediate: a noticeable increase in overall energy. I see this every day in my practice. People who don't exercise almost invariably say that their energy is not what they would like. If they start an exercise program, their energy not only improves dramatically, but they volunteer that they just feel better overall.

Exercise significantly improves self-esteem and helps prevent depression. When you come home from work and feel “stressed out,” try walking vigorously for 30 minutes. It is amazing how much better you will feel.

You'll also think and work better. When people claim they don't have time to exercise, I suggest they will get more done more quickly. Exercise improves concentration, creative thinking, and sleep. An electroencephalogram (brain wave test) records deeper and more beneficial sleep after exercise. This may partially explain why the energy level improves so dramatically.

Pump Up That Immune System

Exercise also improves the function of the immune system which can reap rewards from getting fewer colds to preventing cancer. Studies demonstrate that exercise reduces the incidence of a long list of diseases including specific cancers, heart attack, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis. For example:

The risk of developing colon cancer is decreased by half in people who exercise regularly.

Estrogen-dependent cancers (breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers) and prostate cancer are decreased with regular exercise.

The risk of dying from cancer declines sharply as exercise increases.

Heart attacks are reduced by 69% in the most active individuals who exercise more than 2.2 hours per week.

Regular weight-bearing exercise can reduce the incidence of osteoporosis, a reduction of bone strength (and susceptibility to fractures) responsible for thousands of deaths yearly in the U.S.

The Active Age? Yours!

The common comment “You're too old to be doing that” is really just plain bad advice. On the contrary, elderly people should try to stay active both mentally and physically. More appropriate advice is “Use it or lose it.”

In a recent study, an exercise program improved memory and mental function in the elderly after just six weeks. In addition to the immune benefits above, seniors' regular exercise is associated with a lower risk of gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

Whatever your age, I hope I have convinced you to think of exercise as integral to your health. Besides, it simply feels good. Get energized--and don't fall victim to the real silent killer.

Some Exercise Recommendations

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently convened experts on preventive medicine to establish new exercise guidelines based on current research. Previously, the recommendation was 20 to 60 minutes of exercise at least three days a week.

How much exercise? In a rather dramatic move, the CDC recommends that an adult accumulate 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. A brisk walk at three to four mph is an example. Presently, only about 22% of adults exercise for 30 minutes or more daily.

How to get started. Whatever exercise you choose, you can begin slowly and work up to 30 minutes, preferably daily. Don't worry about how long it takes.

Walking is probably one of the easiest ways to begin. It also helps to have a friend to exercise with. You should attempt to maintain a heart rate of about 70% of your "maximal predicted heart rate" calculated by subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying by 0.7. For example, if you are 40, then (220-40) x 0.7 = 126 beats per minute.

Risk: Be Sensible and Sensitive. Most adults do not need to see their physician before starting an exercise program. However, men over 40, and women over 50, with one or more risk factors for heart disease, should consult their physician. Also, always listen to your body and report any exercise related chest, throat, jaw or arm discomfort or unusual sensations to your physician.


1. Lee IM; Hsieh CC; Paffenbarger RS. Exercise intensity and longevity in men. JAMA 1995 Apr 19;273(15) :1179-84.

2. Lissner L, et al. Physical activity levels and changes in relation to longevity. A prospective study of Swedish women. Am J Epidemiol 1996 Jan 1:143(1) :54-62.

3. Sherman SE, et al. Does exercise reduce mortality rates in the elderly? Experience from the Framingham Heart Study. Am Heart J 1994 Nov:128(5) :965-72.

4. Sherman SE, et al. Physical activity and mortality in women in the Framingham Heart Study. Am Heart J 1994 Nov:128(5) :879-84.

5. Paffenbarger RS, et al. The association of changes in physical-activity level and other lifestyle characteristics with mortality among men. N Engl J Med 1993 Feb 25;328(8) :538-45.

6. Thompson WG. Exercise and health: fact or hype? South Med J 1994 May;87(5) :567-74.

7. Weyerer S, et al. Physical exercise and psychological health. Sports Med 1994 Feb:17(2) :108-16.

8. Pate R, et al. Physical activity and public health. JAMA Feb. 1, 1995 pp. 402- 407.

9. Fiatarone MA, et al. Exercise training and nutritional supplementation for physical frailty in very elderly people. N Eng J Med 1994 Jun 23;330(25) :1769-75.

10. Pahor M, et al. Physical activity and risk of severe gastrointestinal hemorrhage in older persons. JAMA 1994 Aug 24-31:272(8) :595-9.

11. Booth FW, et al. Waging war on modern chronic diseases: primary prevention through exercise biology.
J Appl Physiol 2000 Feb;88(2):774-87.

The information provided above is offered as a community service about health-care issues and is not a substitute for individual consultation. Advice on individual problems should be obtained from your personal physician. This information is based on research by the author and represents his interpretation of the literature.

* * *

Readers may send questions to our email address. This column is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.

* * *

This web page is best viewed in 1024 x 768 resolution. Last updated April 2009. Over 1,194,000 page views.
This web site is maintained by Washington Publishers, Tallahassee Florida, USA, and uses Sun Domains and Software.
To have objectionable or potentially copyrighted material evaluated for removal on this site, click here.
Copyright © 2000 - 2009 All Rights Reserved Washington Publishers
Washington Publishers is not an affiliate of Inside Washington Publishers.
Learn more about our current privacy and information practices.